Just when I was ready to declare the romantic comedy genre dead along comes a movie that makes believe that there is some life left in the old boy-meets-girl storyline. “The Switch”, a new rom com starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman as best friends who—now here’s a surprise—might have unresolved feelings for one another doesn’t exactly cover new ground, but it covers the old ground in a pleasing, interesting way. Dear friends, it’s not time to write that eulogy just yet.
At the beginning of the movie Wally (Bateman) is described as a beady eyed manboy. That’s a pretty apt description, although it leaves out insecure, hypochondriac and loner. His best friend Kassie (Aniston) is a network television producer with “gorgeous cervical mucus” desperate to have a baby, even though she is single with no prospects of a boyfriend, let alone husband. Wally offers his “services” but she declines. “She wouldn’t know good sperm if it slapped her in the face,” offers Jeff Goldblum, Wally’s pal from work. She eventually settles on Roland, a married, but genetically blessed donor. On the night of the artificial insemination Wally, who doesn’t approve of the whole thing gets black out drunk and makes a switch. Cut to seven years later. Kassie and son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) return to New York after living in Minnesota. Wally’s memories of that night are foggy at best, but the more time he spends with Sebastian the more he is convinced he is the father. The problem is Kassie is more interested in striking up a relationship with Roland, the man she believes is the boy’s biological or “seed” dad.
“The Switch” has much in common with other romantic comedies. It shares same kind of predictable plot, the New York setting so crucial to rom coms and the convention of the wacky friend—Jeff Goldblum is a wild eccentric presence here, but makes it worth staying to the end to hear a snippet of his bebop piano version of Happy Birthday.
What’s missing is the shiny gloss of most other romantic comedies. Despite the kind of outlandish plot “The Switch” feels like maybe there are actually real emotions involved instead of the usual rom com faux feelings. For instance in the final reveal—no spoilers here, but you can likely guess what it is—there is no sappy music trying to manipulate us into feeling a certain way. Instead there are believable characters in a slightly unreal situation behaving the way real people might. The tears look genuine and unlike most romantic comedies, they aren’t always tears of joy. Call it an art house rom com if you like but if all romantic comedies were this good the idea of going to see people fall in love at the movies wouldn’t be so odious.
This is considerably more charming than say, “The Back Up Plan,” the JLo movie from earlier this year that covered some of the same ground as “The Switch” and it is mostly because of the actors. Aniston and Bateman are compelling and watchable but it is Sebastian (played at different ages by brothers Thomas and Bryce Robinson) who is the bow on the package. His (their?) deadpan performance is both hilarious and touching.
“The Switch” is much better than it has to be and gives me hope that romance isn’t dead in Hollywood.